When isolated thinkers and designers first explored the idea of
satellite technology in the late 1940s, discussions of space-based
communications relay stations were largely relegated to the realm of
This view began changing in 1955, when a researcher from AT&T’s
Bell Telephone Laboratories published an article on the potential or
orbiting "repeater" stations to cut the cost of overseas
communication. John Pierce—himself a past contributor to local
science fiction magazines—theorized that a satellite would be
capable of handling upwards of 1,000 simultaneous calls. He
contrasted this with the limited 36-call capacity of the submarine
cables connecting the United States to Europe.
He proposed that the United States build a simple satellite that
would act as a mirror, reflecting microwave signals from one ground
transmitter to another.
The $1-billion price tag was much more prohibitive, and the
project more risky, than merely laying new undersea cable. It took
an achievement of a Cold War enemy before the US government would
partner with the private sector on such a costly venture.The USSR
launched Sputnik 1 in October 1957 and, as a matter of foreign
policy, democracy refused to be far behind.
In this new light, Pierce’s project was not seen as ambitious
enough or functional enough to balance out the shame of being
scooped by the Soviets. It took the aid of several persuasive
friends, and the discovery that NASA had already created certain
related technology, before the government agreed to link up with
On 12 August 1960, Echo 1 was successfully launched and brought
online. This touched off a new area for commercial competition in
the form of a race to develop active satellite technology. While
AT&T began work on the Telstar medium orbit system, RCA, the company
that had won the NASA contract for the work, began a similar project
Hughes Aircraft Company, another burgeoning aerospace firm, had
been contracted by the US government to create a high-orbit
satellite—Syncom—that would operate 24 hours a day.
By the mid-1960s, all of these teams had a couple of units in the
sky, each delivering communications services or scientific and
military data to its creators.
Canada, meanwhile, was about to become the third country on Earth
to put satellite equipment into space, with the joint Canada-US
launch of the 322-pound (146 kilogram) Alouette I on 29 September
1962. This satellite, though launched on the back of a US rocket,
was made entirely in Canada. It had been created through the
collective effort of the Defence Research Telecommunications
Establishment team, located in Shirleys Bay, Ottawa. Headed by John
Chapman, this group designed its equipment to gather atmospheric
data. The team’s success was followed, through Chapman’s ongoing
efforts, by the launch of Alouette II in 1965 and ISIS I in 1969.
With confidence still high from success on the scientific front,
the Canadian Government was also interested in developing its own
After being incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1969, Telesat
Canada began its work on the Anik Project. The team launched its
inaugural satellite, Anik A1, on 9 November 1972, which was followed
over the next decade by several new generations of increasingly
powerful equipment offering services that included communications
and weather monitoring.
These early efforts, spearheaded by scientists and engineers,
would lay the groundwork for Canada’s technological supremacy in the
decades that followed. Today, all ten provinces and three
territories benefit from satellite coverage, which is of particular
importance to otherwise isolated northern communities.
The ready availability of distance communication, which includes
the transfer of educational materials and health information, has
changed the way people do business and conduct their personal
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Heritage Community Foundation and
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